What Are the Special Concerns of Vomiting in the Elderly?

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  • Written By: Cindy Quarters
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 03 March 2019
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Vomiting can occur for many different reasons, but no matter why it is happening it needs to be addressed. Not only does it make the person who is vomiting feel miserable, it can also cause dehydration or the inability to take in adequate nutrition. Vomiting in the elderly can be serious because older people are more likely to have underlying health problems that can be made worse by throwing up or that may impact how the vomiting can be treated. Other age-related problems can make a person who is ill have more trouble coping with the effects of vomiting.

One of the more serious concerns related to vomiting in the elderly is that older people, especially those who are in a weakened condition, do not have good reflexes to protect their airway when they vomit. This means that it may be very easy for an older person to aspirate, or breathe in, some of the stomach contents during the process of throwing up. Stomach acid can destroy lung tissue, and the aspiration of such material can cause pneumonia that can potentially be fatal.


When an older person has underlying health problems such as heart or other circulatory difficulties, cancer, a compromised immune system, or any other issue, the inability to eat or drink can quickly become serious. Vomiting can cause patients who are already run down to become so weak that they become bedridden or develop symptoms of previously unrecognized health problems. People who must take medications to control chronic illness may not be able to do so, which can cause those illnesses to flare up.

Dehydration is one of the more serious problems that vomiting in the elderly may lead to. Seniors who cannot consume enough liquids can many times become dehydrated very quickly. This can lead to many different problems and can easily become life threatening. Elderly people who become dehydrated may have hot, dry skin, become lethargic, and can possibly even hallucinate.

When vomiting in the elderly is a concern, a doctor should be consulted as soon as possible. While this is not always necessary for a short period of vomiting, in some people even once may be too much. It is generally best to at least speak with a medical professional by phone, and follow the directions carefully to prevent further problems. If the vomiting is excessive it is often best to go to the emergency room without delay.


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Post 4

I'm worried about my uncle (70 and with heart issues) who is having diarrhea and vomiting. His caregiver is taking him to walk-in clinics, not the ER.

Post 3

@bythewell - I think it can be difficult for some people to admit that they need help, or even acknowledge that they need it.

But vomiting is a very good example of how something can go seriously wrong. Even a younger person who gets food poisoning and doesn't have help, can get into serious trouble. An older person in the same boat doesn't have the same reserves to drawn upon and if they are at home alone they might end up dead.

I don't think older people all need to go into homes, but I do think that past a certain age people who live alone need to wear one of those medic alert bracelets that monitors health and alerts the

ambulance if the person wearing it needs help.

If you've got a bug and you're weak from vomiting you might not be able to seek help after a certain point. You should do what you can to make sure that scenario doesn't happen.

Post 2
This is the worst part of getting old. Not only are you already feeling frail and ill, you also have to deal with every virus and bacteria that comes your way because it's so difficult to keep your immune system functioning well.

Personally, I think that prevention is much better than cure. It's just a fact of life that you have to work harder to keep your health, so knuckle down and do it. Eat as well as possible and exercise as much as you can. And, most importantly, accept help when it is offered, whether it's offered by friends, family or professionals.

Post 1

If someone has been vomiting regularly, it's not enough to just give them a vitamin and some water in order to counteract it. Vomiting can deplete people's vitamins to the point where it's dangerous and I imagine it's an even worse problem in elderly patients who might be less inclined to eat well even when they aren't sick.

I had a friend with bulimia and I went to the doctor with her the first time she admitted to it. The doctor told her that she could potentially lose enough potassium from doing this to stop her own heart, so even if she couldn't stop herself, she ought to take measures to make sure that didn't happen.

I don't know for sure what other vitamin deficiencies need to be tested for, but your doctor will know.

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